By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
Her political enthusiasm spilled over into MCO Environmental, according to employees, who say that Otazo encouraged some of them to contribute money to various commission candidates. Former office workers recall that during last year's commission races, they stuffed envelopes during working hours for at least one commission candidate, though they don't remember who.
Another aspect of the Otazos' success has been their tenacious approach to dealing with critics and governmental bureaucrats. This has become particularly evident in the past year as they have pressed for a settlement of $13 million in claims they have filed against the county for work at Miami International Airport.
Last summer, when Buddy Klein, founder and long-time head of DPC General Contractors, first heard that MCO Environmental was demanding more money for those projects, he began questioning the company's claims. Klein wrote airport officials asking to receive copies of the material MCO had submitted and he made it clear that if MCO was allowed such a substantial increase in its pay, his company might also consider submitting demands for additional money for similar work DPC had performed at the airport.
When MCO became aware of Klein's interest, the company's attorney, David Swimmer, wrote him a terse letter saying the Otazos had hired him to investigate Klein and to determine if DPC should be sued for questioning MCO's claims. "Unless your intention is to provoke litigation by MCO Environmental, Inc.," Swimmer wrote, "in which case MCO Environmental, Inc., is prepared to accommodate you, I suggest you refrain from any further attempts to interfere with MCO Environmental, Inc.'s relationship with [the Dade County Aviation Department] or its claim for additional compensation. I would prefer not renewing our acquaintance in a deposition or at a jury trial."
Klein says he read the letter a couple of times, made a photocopy of it, then scrawled his reply in bold letters across the page: "David A this is bullshit." He mailed it back to Swimmer.
MCO has yet to file suit against Klein and DPC, although Swimmer told New Times that was almost certain to happen. Swimmer also warned the newspaper that if it wasn't "careful" in preparing this article, it too would be sued.
Although MCO officials have refused to cooperate with New Times, they have expressed a keen interest in research for this story. Two days after the newspaper filed a public records request with the aviation department to review some of MCO's projects, the company, through Swimmer, filed its own public records request in an effort to determine what documents New Times had requested. Former MCO employees say such behavior is characteristic. "They believe that the world is out to get them," says one former employee who asked not to be named. "They always view themselves as the victims, that they are the underdogs."
That assessment found resonance earlier this month when the Miami Herald noted the controversy surrounding MCO's multimillion-dollar claims against the county's aviation department. "We have been treated like dirt," Cruz Otazo complained. "We are a Hispanic company and I am a woman. The minute you go out there and compete with the big boys, they are out to get you."
MCO Environmental appears ready to take a swing of its own at the big boys in Dade County government. On March 11 attorney David Swimmer sent a letter to Assistant County Attorney Deborah Mastin. Swimmer informed her he has been "instructed to immediately institute litigation" to recover more than $7.4 million the Otazos claim they are owed. The letter went on to state that a copy of the lawsuit would be delivered to the county in "a couple of days." As of March 25 the county had received nothing.